74/76 Victoria Street
Richmond VIC 3121
+61 3 9429 6147
One thing that Gold Coast lacks is a decent Vietnamese restaurant. There are a few up on the Glitter Strip but sadly, these places often serve a very modified version of pho that’s way overpriced and lacking in flavour. So whenever I’m down in Melbourne, I make it my aim to visit at least a couple of Vietnamese joints, whether it be a banh mi (Vietnamese pork roll) kiosk in Footscray or a restaurant on Victoria Street that dishes out piping hot bowls of pho.
In the past, I’ve enjoyed these Vietnamese meals with my parents. Excited about the possibility of enjoying yet another bowl of aromatic pho, I asked my folks if they were free to do lunch on Victoria Street one Sunday afternoon – they were. And all throughout that Sunday morning, my stomach growled in anticipation: I was finally going to have a proper bowl of pho after three months.
During those three months I was away, however, something strange happened to my parents: their taste in Vietnamese food – and restaurants – changed… and I had no idea how, why and when. In the past, my parents were happy going to places like Hung Vuong and Chu The. Now, they claim they’re ‘too dirty’ and instead, prefer sanitised places like Tho Tho that obviously cater to a western audience. This was very strange – especially since my parents grew up in Indonesia, having happily eaten roadside chicken satays for a number of decades before moving to Melbourne. And even then, they were more than happy with sitting down at a run-down Vietnamese point, slurping bowls of pho.
As it happened, we ended up at Tran Tran, just down the road from Tho Tho. Graced with polished white tile walls and orb lighting, the people running Tran Tran created an impressive space that was clean and contemporary – and not a single Asian was sitting inside. Sadly, these were the sort of places I would have normally avoided if I wanted authentic Vietnamese food. In fact, the waitress actually looked surprised to see us, three Asians, walking in.
I glared at my parents but my dad only shrugged, meekly saying: ‘blame your mother’ before she responded with a: ‘at least this place is smart – it attracts all the orang bule.’ I guess she had a fair point, from a marketing perspective anyway. But anyway, let’s get onto the food.
The three of us shared some prawn and pork spring rolls to start off with. I don’t remember how much they were but they did the job – nothing special but they curbed my cravings for the humble crispy ‘roll.
I had the pho – or as they said on their menu, ‘noodles with sliced beef with a choice of rice or egg noodles’ (dear me). My first thought was: ‘why does it come with fried shallots?’
My second thought was ‘why is there a helluva lot of overcooked bean shoots underneath the noodles?!’
It was the strangest bowl of pho, I’ve ever had – at least in Melbourne. There was a slight hint of flavour in the broth, so at least you can say that they tried to make it taste like proper pho (cf. Berlin where it’s blatantly obvious that they sweeten the crap out of the broth to appease local diners). Overall though, it lacked the depth that one would normally expect from a good bowl of pho.
There is certainly a market for places like Tran Tran in Melbourne; indeed, they were doing a roaring lunchtime trade with happy Caucasians filling each table. But I’d never go back, especially since there are much better places on the same strip. One thing’s for sure though: I’m never agreeing to Vietnamese with my folks ever again.